Sunday, August 26, 2012

Fun Playing with Shanghai-ese Food at Gourmet Chopsticks!

Our recent journey to visit family in New York, as per usual, led us across my old stomping grounds of  New Jersey. Meeting up with local friends, we shared a fabulous Shanghai inspired meal at a recently (November 2011) converted restaurant in Fairfield, about 20 minutes west of the George Washington Bridge: Gourmet Chopsticks (formerly Hunan Cottage) at 14 Rt. 46 East. If you find yourself anyplace near this neighborhood, and you enjoy authentic Chinese food, run and do not walk to Gourmet Chopsticks.

I first learned about this restaurant from Jason Perlow's blog Off the Broiler, which had cross-posted a review from New Jersey Blogger Melody Kettle at Hot From the Kettle. Her photos of Xiao Long Bao and Shanghai Noodles whet my appetite, and I knew this would be our next New Jersey dining destination.

Our five top held the only non-Asian customers in the place, which was well attended for a Thursday night, and there is an excellent reason for this. The proprietor was delighted when Jo-Mel (my Chinese cooking teacher) waved away the American menu and asked for the Chinese menu (though they still served us fried noodles  and duck sauce). While many of these dishes are listed in the hodge-podge that is the online menu, the only way to see the whole thing, and the ever-changing specials, is to pay Gourmet Chopsticks a visit. References below to item numbers are to the printed Chinese Menu you see here.

We began with a delicacy no longer available to us in Cleveland: Xiao Long Bao, or Soup Dumplings. We put this order in first (item # 6 under "Noodle & Rice"), then perused the lengthy menu, which features Taiwanese as well as Shanghai specialties. How to choose from so many wonderful, and otherwise-hard-to- find dishes?

The menu translated the name for the dumpling dish as "Steamed Crab Meat Juicy Bun" (a straight pork version is also available).

The dumpling dough is stuffed with a ball of crab meat and pork, and a cube of intensely rich (and probably spiked with aspic), chilled broth. When steamed, the broth melts around the savory filling inside the dumpling, hence the name "soup dumpling."

Once the dumpling is balanced upon the spoon, it is wise to nibble a small bite of the dough and carefully sip some of the hot soup.

The dumpling can also be dipped in the accompanying simple sauce of soy, vinegar and ginger. Yum.

Our next choice was the "Leek Noodle Box," which we call a Chive Pancake, item # 3, also under "Noodles & Rice":

The crepe-like dough is wrapped around chopped, sauteed Flowering Garlic Chives and Bean Thread (or Glass) Noodles, for a crispy, chewy delight.

Getting down to business on the entrees, we asked for Snow Pea Leaf, but they were out, and so we made do with Ong Choy, stir fried simply with garlic:

For the noodle course, there could be only one selection - hand-pulled Shanghai noodles stir fried with pork and vegetables (item # 25 under "Noodle & Rice," Sauteed Noodle Shanghai Style) :

Gloppy noodles have always been one of my favorite treats, but there is nothing more toothsome or satisfying than freshly made (as in, "made in house") noodles. These specimens did not fail to delight, and the crunchy vegetables and velvety meat contrasted perfectly. A light bit of spice further enhanced the flavor.

Our only culinary misfire didn't fail to please on its own merits, but Jo-Mel had thought the dish was spare ribs and not pork chops. Salt and Pepper Pork Chops, item # 17 under "Shanghai Style Entree," were nonetheless delicious and we cleaned the plate of every crispy morsel:

You can see Jim's can of Coor's Light, above. Gourmet Chopsticks has no liquor permit, but as New Jersey has far more civilized alcohol control laws than does Ohio, BYOB is happily permitted.

The most unusual dish we shared was an off-menu special: Calamari with Basil, Chinese Style:

This amazing casserole dish featured long-cooked squid (rings and tentacles) in a fragrant bath redolent with star anise and ginger, in addition to the Asian basil leaves. As you can see, the basil caramelized, less obvious is how wonderfully the ginger also caramelized. Slices of the ginger can be more readily seen in the photo below:

Our hosts, who didn't entirely believe that we were going to like the dishes we ordered until we tucked in, were extremely pleased that our table of 5 non-Asians was so enjoying the authentic Shanghai cuisine. As they cleared the almost-empty plates, the manager asked if we were game to try a Chinese-style dessert. But of course!

First, the obligatory plate of orange slices:

And then, a house original (as we were told), a thin pancake (they couldn't quite identify whether it was wheat or rice based) stuffed with mashed taro and rolled up, with the ends then rolled in something sweet (maltose, perhaps) and sesame seeds:

Like most Chinese desserts, this was almost more savory than sweet, but offered just enough sugar to clean our palates without stuffing us. A just-sweet-enough ending to a delightful meal.

I regret that we could not manage a bigger dent into the 139 choices on the Chinese Menu (which number doesn't include the multiple Lobster and Flounder Specials for 2 or 4 diners at the bottom of the second side of the menu). I anticipate many return visits to Gourmet Chopsticks on future New York trips; the hardest part will be to save room for new dishes, because we loved everything we ate and will need to have some of them again! For fun playing with authentic Shanghai style food (can't tell you about the Taiwanese dishes because we didn't get to any!), pick up your chopsticks and head to Gourmet Chopsticks!


  1. What a fantastic sounding meal! Chinese always kind of terrifies me because of those crazy translations. I'm always worried what I might end up with. Looks like you made great choices - I'll have to remember this place next time I head to NYC!

    Crystal @EatDrinkClev

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